U.S. phone company challenges Peruvian monopoly with big ad campaign

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Lima--U.S.-based telecommunications services marketer FirstCom has begun an aggressive advertising campaign to promote its international long-distance service in Peru.

FirstCom is the first to challenge Peru's main telephone provider, Telefonica del Peru. Telefonica del Peru, a subsidiary of Spanish telecommunications giant Telefonica, began operations in the Peruvian market in 1993, when its Spanish parent company purchased Peru's then state-owned telephone service for more than $2 billion.

Telefonica had a monopoly on telecommunications services for the first five years of its operations in Peru, a point highlighted in the FirstCom ad campaign designed by Leo Burnett del Peru.

The print, radio, outdoor and TV campaign "focuses on the frustration customers feel when they deal with a monopoly," says Leo Burnett Co.'s general manager in Peru, Marco Milesi. "Even if there isn't a problem, the customer feels abused because there is no alternative."

The print and outdoor campaigns creatively announce the end of the Telefonica monopoly--"So long, monopoly; Welcome, FirstCom."

The radio and TV campaigns have hit a nerve with Peruvians. The TV spot has a woman entering a phone company office to complain about extra long-distance charges on her bill. Instead of assisting her, the customer representative stares blankly ahead and mimics a busy signal, saying "We're sorry, we cannot attend your call right now. Please hang up and try again."

The spot, known as "Tu-ru-ru," after the sound of a busy signal in Peru, has had a major impact among the population. Readers have written to local magazines to say how much they enjoy the commercial.

Mr. Milesi said the idea behind the spot came from one of the members of his creative staff, who was having a similar problem with the phone company.

The "Tu-ru-ru" spot ran for one month, until mid-December, which was "enough time to get the point across," Mr. Milesi said. It has been replaced by a second commercial that highlights the ease with which customers can switch to FirstCom for long-distance service.

FirstCom President Dante Cordoba said the advertising campaign is not meant to criticize the competition but to point out the advantages of using his company's services.

"It is a humorous way of addressing a very serious issue, which is customer service," he said.

Copyright December 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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